Activist Goes Int’l with Plutonium Protest

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

KYOTO — With the Earth Summit [in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil] in full swing, environmental activist Aileen Mioko Smith hopes to bring Japan’s anti-nuclear protest before the eyes of the international community.

Smith and other anti-nuclear activists, under the banner of “Japanese Citizens Concerned About Plutonium,” recently placed a prominent advertisement in the New York Times entitled “Japan’s Dangerous Nuclear Build-Up,” as one way of bringing an otherwise domestic issue up for international debate.

The advertisement, organized in cooperation with a San Francisco-based PR firm known as the Public Media Center, calls on U.S. citizens to protest and take action against Japan’s “reckless plutonium policy.”

“There are people throughout Japan who are very concerned about this and who are opposed to it,” says Smith. “I think it’s very important for everybody in the world to know that.”

With the global limelight now on the Earth Summit in Brazil, she said, the time is right to call worldwide attention to Japan’s secretive buildup of plutonium as an environmental disaster waiting to happen. More than 60 countries along potential sea routes would be affected by an accident involving the Japanese shipment of plutonium, she added.

The first major step in Japan’s increased plutonium program is now underway, with plutonium fuel to be secretly shipped overland some time soon to the Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. Smith has been a key organizer of the “Stop the Monju” movement here.

Japan’s supply of plutonium by the year 2020 is projected to be at least twice the combined amount of plutonium arsenals in the United States and the former Soviet Union, according to Smith, making Japan the leading user of the toxic substance used in manufacturing atomic weapons.

The Japanese nuclear power industry generally defends its plutonium accumulation as necessary to meet domestic demand.

But such large supplies far exceed domestic demand, claim activists like Smith, adding that the shipment of such masses of plutonium increase the chances for accidents or terrorist attacks that could mean devastating radiation effects on the entire global environment.

“It’s unbelievable that the government of a country (like Japan) that’s had two nuclear bombs dropped on it has plutonium as an energy policy,” said Smith. “It’s just incredible.”

But Japan alone is not to blame. Smith holds the American government responsible as well, since much of the plutonium shipped to Japan reportedly originates from the U.S.

Smith herself is no stranger to environmental issues: In the 1970s, she and her former husband, the late photographer W. Eugene Smith, documented mercury poisoning cases in Kumamoto Prefecture that came to be known worldwide as “Minamata disease.” She has also documented the radiation effects of the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania.

As for the future, Smith plans to turn up the anti-nuclear heat even higher: The
next overseas appeal will be to European citizens in an effort to stop the planned shipment to Japan of reprocessed plutonium from the United Kingdom and France this autumn.